For the first time since 1923, polling day arrives on a cold, dark winter’s day, conditions that might ordinarily deter those who cannot or dare not brave the elements.
However this election campaign has been anything but ordinary; it has been long, volatile and exhausting. Exhausting not just for the politicians but for those of us seeking to discern the facts from the fiction. Spin, conjecture and downright deceit have dominated the narrative of this campaign, leaving millions of voters confused, disillusioned and angry.
From the very beginning, the run-in to this General Election above all others has been fraught with danger for anyone seeking trustworthy, fact-checked information from credible sources that have no political motivation, affiliation or agenda.
We have seen a video of Sir Keir Starmer cynically tampered with in an attempt to discredit him; the partisan social media account for Conservative Campaign Headquarters morphed into a supposed ‘fact-checking’ service; political parties of all persuasions putting out ‘free local newspapers’ which mimicked the real thing in order to trick people into believing and trusting what was nothing more than propaganda.
Just this week the journalism of this newspaper and that of our sister title – in relation to the tragic plight of a poorly four-year-old boy seen recuperating on the floor of Leeds General Infirmary – has been called into question after a sophisticated and concerted attack on the veracity of our story by online trolls and activists.
For this newspaper the tipping point came when loyal, committed, life-long readers began contacting the editor to advise him they would no longer be buying or reading The Yorkshire Post because they had seen a ‘Facebook post that proved we were lying.’ Of course, we were not. They had been duped, but certainly not by this newspaper.
This, one of Britain’s most trusted and historic newsbrands, was having the bond between it and its readers – one often passed on from generation to generation of Yorkshire families – attacked. Journalism that had been painstakingly fact-checked and meticulously sourced was being discredited by a digital disease that is hypnotic and alluring yet nothing more than a con trick propagated by conspiracy theorists.
But this isn’t a con trick that leaves people out of pocket; this is a con trick that threatens to denude us of something far more important than pounds, shillings and pence. It is one that is insidiously diluting our ability to confidently discern truth from lies.
It is not hyperbole – remember, only the conspiracy theorists who rely on your discombobulation in order to make good on their mission will tell you it is – to suggest this relentless, unchecked, unregulated online wild west is threatening to destabilise our democracy: one that was once a global beacon for decency and decorum. Now more than ever, people need outlets like this one to whom they turn when power needs to hear truth and the powerful need holding to account.
So, today, this newspaper demands: this has to stop. We call upon the Electoral Commission to carry out a full inquiry into the conduct and content of this election campaign.
The people of this country must never again be asked to navigate a maelstrom of misinformation in order to decide who will govern them.
If we are to unite the nation after this so-called Brexit Election then it is essential that trust is restored and dialogue resumed. Dialogue that addresses the bread-and-butter policy challenges that impact upon people’s lives.
We have not heard enough about education, transport infrastructure or social care. Agriculture, housing or healthcare. Detail and nuance have been sacrificed at the altar of falsehood during this campaign, with cases to answer for more than just the party leaders.
It is incumbent upon all of us to do better. With the power of the social platforms at our fingertips we are all publishers and so must collectively decide what sort of country we want to be.
The Yorkshire Post remains as committed to its high standards of journalistic integrity as it has ever been and stands ready to assist the next Government in the root-and-branch review of that which we have just witnessed that we trust will materialise. If it does not, where we end up will be at the behest of the enemies of truth.